ABC chairman’s message to screen producers: Don’t be afraid

15 November, 2017 by Don Groves

Justin Milne. 

ABC chairman Justin Milne today told screen producers they should not fear for their survival, pointing to a series of positive developments.


Delivering the Hector Crawford memorial lecture at Screen Forever, Milne said the new structure of cross-platform content teams announced yesterday by MD Michelle Guthrie would enable the broadcaster to produce better content, thus increasing opportunities for indie producers.

He urged producers to continue working with Netflix, Amazon and other global giants and called on the government to require these players to contribute to the local industry, citing quotas in Europe and Canada.

The chairman also reiterated the ABC’s opposition to being subjected to local content quotas, observing: “The ABC has charter commitments to a range of genres that go beyond the regulatory systems applying to the commercials. Australian content is firmly baked into our charter.”

The former group MD at Telstra where he was responsible for BigPond broadband and Telstra’s media businesses, Milne asked rhetorically: “Should Australian producers be afraid? Not so much in my view. In Australia we have always had to punch above our weight to compete with the US. Today there are new players who seek world domination – just like the old ones.

“I think the opportunity exists for Australian producers to find ways of working with these new big guys – as some are already doing – and bringing the unique blend of can-do, creativity and quirky irreverence to the equation.

“I do think big data and machine learning will be added to the media mix but I don’t think that means the end of days for Australian producers. Look how well our local animation houses are succeeding on the world stage in production and computer-generated imagery.”

He said the reorganisation unveiled by Guthrie, which will take effect early next year, would encourage collaboration and creativity while eliminating duplication and “siloed thinking.”

The traditional divisions between TV, radio and digital will be abolished, replaced by a new structure which will see content teams operating across all platforms, formats and devices.

Currently director of TV, David Anderson will lead the entertainment and specialist team spanning children’s content, music and creative development, factual and entertainment, drama, comedy and Indigenous programming.

News, analysis and investigations will be led by Gaven Morris, currently director, news. It will be responsible for state coverage, network news and investigations and in-depth reporting.

The regional and local team led by Michael Mason, currently director, radio, will include rural and regional teams, capital city and regional productions.

Yesterday Guthrie ABC stressed there will be no job losses, cuts to programs or a reduction in the number of TV and radio networks.

A new content ideas lab led by Angela Stengel will serve as a hothouse for projects designed to connect with new audiences.

At Screen Forever Milne said the new structure recognises that audiences want to immerse themselves in better content at a time and place convenient to them and it will enable content teams to organise and work together in ways that accord with the way audiences think.

So for example, there will be one arts team, not several. By bringing together content specialists the ABC would produce better content and reach more people, helping the broader industry.

“The more impact we have, the better opportunities exist for the independent producers who help make our great content,” he said.

Stressing the ABC’s contribution to Australian drama, he noted that over the last five years the Seven, Nine and Ten Networks generated a combined total of $1.083 billion worth of production while the ABC accounted for $576 million.

Last year alone, the ABC triggered 62 per cent of the FTA networks’ combined drama production activity, up from five-year average of 53 per cent.

“So, through collaboration with industry, the gap is increasing in terms of the investment we make in the actors, writers, technicians, producers and directors of Australia,” he said.

IF Magazine is a media partner of the Screen Forever conference.